Thanks to the valiant efforts of a journalist and his smart use of the Freedom of Information Act, we now know that there were almost 11 immigration raids a day in London between 2010 and 2015. We also know that areas with sizeable migrant populations in east and south east London were the chief targets for these raids.
But the capital isn’t the only place to face immigration raids. A quick trawl of local newspaper headlines shows the rest of England, from Swindon, to Maidstone and from Berwick up Tweed to Wigan has had a share of this kind of attention from enforcement teams this year alone. And that’s without looking at what’s happened north of the border, in Wales or in Northern Ireland. It’s grown into a bit of an industry since the notorious raid at Bestway Cash and Carry in the London Borough of Brent that sent a shockwave through the local community (and more widely) and which set the template for its successors back in the1980s.
The focus of these raids is often businesses run by black and ethnic minority entrepreneurs. And government agencies led by the Home Office have also targeted the construction industry under the code name Operation Magnify. Frequently, too, immigration raids are disguised inside ‘joint operations’ between police, customs, local council trading standards teams and immigration enforcement aimed at sweeping up a combination of civil, criminal and immigration infractions all at once.
Wrong side of the law
But there have been times when these raids and other enforcement work have fallen on the wrong side of the law. Back in 2014 the Chief Inspector of Borders & Immigration published a highly critical reportwhich found that as much as two-thirds of immigration raids were unlawful – particularly in relation to the misuse of the power to enter premises. This clearly showed a systematic abuse of the legal limits on enforcement officers at that time.
Official policy, especially when it is a knee-jerk reaction to media stories such as the ones that claim the country is awash with ‘illegal immigrants’ registered through ‘bogus colleges, can not only end in farce but serious injustice too. And raids can have the unintended effect of leaving the vulnerable elderly who were formerly being looked after in their own homes without a carer – some of whom had worked here for a decade or more.
Some of this ‘illegality’ in carrying out raids and trawls isn’t going unchallenged though. Euro-human rights agency the AIRE Centre is mounting a judicial review of the unlawful detention and deportation of EU nationals. This was after evidence emerged that foreign nationals, with no prior offences and legally living in the UK, can now be deported without access to a fair trial!
It’s not as if this type of rule-bending doesn’t have a cost either. Earlier this year A BBC Freedom of Information request revealed that the government is paying more than £4m each year in compensation to failed asylum-seekers and foreign prisoners who were held unlawfully in immigration detention centres. There could be more taxpayer funded payouts if the AIRE Centre’s action succeeds.
So what’s to be done? Well it seems that if the immigration authorities can’t stay within the rule of law then they must be ‘helped’ to do so by the courts and by vigilant community and voluntary organisations who are willing to bear witness to – and to legally challenge where they are able – this unlawful and chaotic approach to enforcement.